By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The public seemed to like what it was hearing. Traffic experts from the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) came to a Bay Ridge public hearing on June 5 and introduced their plan to make changes on Fourth Avenue to increase safety and found an audience largely receptive to the proposal.
The idea of the public hearing, which was sponsored by Community Board 10, was to gauge public opinion on a DOT’s plan called “4th Avenue – Bay Ridge Corridor Safety Improvements,” according to Jesse Mintz-Roth, senior project manager for the agency. “We’ll show you where we are and we want your feedback,” he told the audience in Saint Anselm Church Hall Wednesday night.
The plan includes proposed safety enhancements such as reducing the number of lanes of traffic, building pedestrian islands in the middle of the avenue, extending the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curb_extension curbs at crosswalks at certain intersections to give pedestrians a shorter distance to walk as they cross from one side of the avenue to another, creating left turn bays for drivers at 22 intersections to help smooth the flow of traffic, and erecting an 80-foor-long curbside fence on Fourth Avenue between 86th and 87th Streets to prevent pedestrians from crossing the street mid-block.
The plan is aimed at reducing speeding by drivers and making it safer for pedestrians to cross the avenue, Mintz-Roth said.
One Bay Ridge resident, who works for an elected official, had this assessment. “It looked like 40 percent of the audience liked the whole plan. Thirty percent liked parts of it. And thirty percent were against it. But you still had 70 percent of the people there supporting it,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
“I support the changes proposed tonight,” one resident, Jennifer Kruger, said during the public comment period. Kruger said she and her husband are concerned about safety when they cross the street with their two young sons.
Another resident, Maureen Landers, who said she was hit by a car while crossing Fourth Avenue in 2009, also endorsed the plan. Calling the plan “a viable, safe alternative,” Landers said “failure to act will result in drivers continuing to use Fourth Avenue as a speedway.”
As DOT experts tweaked their plan, the proposal has been the subject of workshops over the past five months in which residents were asked to comment. DOT officials officially presented their proposal to Board 10’s Traffic and Transportation Committee last week. But the public hearing on Wednesday represented the first time the plan was discussed with a wide audience. The meeting hall was packed with more than 200 local residents.
DOT officials are concerned about safety on Fourth Avenue, according to Mintz-Roth, who said statistics illustrate that the concern is warranted. Thirty-eight people were killed in accidents on Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge between 2007 and 2011, he said.
The intersection of Fourth Avenue and 86th Streets is particularly treacherous, Mintz-Roth said. Pedestrians were killed at the intersection in the years 2003, 2005, 2007, and this year. “It’s a very chaotic area. In many ways, it’s the center of the project,” he said.
The plan did not win universal acceptance, however. Objections were raised over the reduction of traffic lanes, among other things.
Dan Texeira charged that when DOT reduced the number of lanes on Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park, it created a huge problem. “It takes forever to get down Fourth Avenue,” he said. “This plan has so many flaws,” he added. Texeira suggested that instead of reducing lanes, DOT stagger the timing of traffic lights to slow down speeding drivers.
DOT, which is looking at safety enhancements for the entire length of Fourth Avenue, has already installed safety features in the Sunset Park portion, from 15th Street to 64th Street. The Bay Ridge and Park Slope communities are next on the list, Mintz-Roth said.
Scott Klein, who said he drives down Fourth Avenue going back and forth between Bay Ridge and Park Slope several times a day, passing through Sunset Park, said he didn’t think the Sunset Park portion of Fourth Avenue faired well under the DOT safety plan. “”I’m not convinced that what they’ve done between 15th and 64th Streets has solved any problems,” he said.
But one woman, who gave her name as Stefania, said drivers should be more concerned with safety than with getting to their destinations quicker. “If it takes me an extra minute to get down Fourth Avenue and it saves a life, I’m for it,” she said.
Other residents predicted that if drivers can’t speed down Fourth Avenue, they’ll find alternative routes such as Third or Fifth Avenues to use as speedways.
“As for the proposal, it sounds good, but it will create more problems, like road rage,” Fred Greco said. “We need more patrol cars on the avenue,” he said.
Maryteresa McKenna agreed. “I think we need enforcement. Cops should be doing DWI-types of checks to check people’s licenses,” she said adding that her suspicion is that there are many motorists out there who don’t have driver’s licenses.
The Traffic and Transportation Committee of Board 10 will vote whether to accept or reject the plan on June 10. The full board will vote on June 17. The board does not have the power to stop the DOT from implementing the plan.
People on both sides of the issue agreed that something has to be done to make Fourth Avenue safer. “When you have people afraid to cross the street, you have a problem,” John Quaglione said.